Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Alarming realisation about most people

I live in a world where I assume that everybody thinks a bit like me. I assume that the think most people crave in their meagre little lives is a sense of freedom to experiment, and an opportunity to be creative. To fix the things that are broken.

I am currently suffering from "roll out-itis" - my business is "standardising" everything.

In recent months I have struggled and fought against this, because in my view of the world, this is wrong.

I guess I also though that it was a waste of effort. Whether or not you believe that people should be free to improve their own working processes, it has been proven by giants such as Toyota that "rolling out" something that works in one location without consideration of cultural and political differences will fail.

However, yesterday two things happened to change my view point a little. The first was the level of enthusiasm for a 90 minute training program which is being rolled out across our business (step one of standardisation). The second is the level of comfort that our exec team gained from knowing they were following a proscribed process, and that they could not deviate.

Slowly it dawns on me that my way of thinking is unusual. Most people are happier following.

If I use an analogy of another group of animals that are notoriously good at following - a flock of sheep - that makes me a wild dog in their midst. And despite the fact that my intentions are honourable - that I am trying to stop the sheep dogs from guiding them into a wilderness - the leaders in the organisation just see my behaviour as that of a wild dog.

So, not entirely sure what to do with this revelation.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

What is it I do when I do what I do?

This recursive question is one of the reasons (honestly, it might be more of an excuse!) that I have stopped studying for a month!

So, let's pick it to pieces...

What do I do?

Well, let's consider when I go into action on a supply issue in my job. What I dofirst is to try to get clarity of the supply side of the issue. Firstly, I try to get information about what has caused the issue, what is the severity of the issue, what are the things that have to happen to solve the issue, and what are the things that could happen (or not happen) that are outside of our control that could prevent us solving the issue.

After this, I check my understanding with someone I trust... then I communicate to the commercial team what I think is likely to happen, but also what could happen (good and bad).

I then drive the commercial team to mitigate the issue in some way (alternative product, reduce demand, move demand, stop a launch...)

Then I review periodically to make sure everything is happening as expected. If something is different, I go back to the start and reiterate the process.

What is it I do when I do this?

Normally, I enter a situation like this with a feeling that the full supply issue is not understood. I have found in the past that people misrepresent the truth. Sometimes because they don't understand, and sometimes because the truth is not something they want to admit to. Experience has taught me that the communication to the commercial teams must be accurate, and that credibility is eroded if corrections are needed after the initial communication. Therefore I spend much more time understanding this part of the problem than others think I need to.

I often talk about needing to "give people time to move through denial". (I think this is change management theory) I think this is also a process I go through in this "understanding" phase. My experience is that other people also need time and space, like me, to be sure that the information is correct. I think part of this is emotional acceptance.

In addition, I talk about needing to understand, at least loosely, what the cause of the issue is. In my head, I am already building a process to avoid this in the future - even though that is not the key issue at this point in the process. I would like to be doing this more systemically - Senge talks about "After Action Reviews" - which are reviews of observations during action.

Checking my assuptions with a trusted person is not just about checking facts, it is also a process of testing the story, and being able to tell it without blame. (Knowing why a problem has occured can lead to laziness - and one thing I try to avoid is apportioning any blame during the crisis management - as it is counterproductive to the team - mostly, if the cause was a person, the person is part of the "fix it" team as well).

Communication to the commercial team can take time. They have to be brought through the change management process from "the world is good" to "the world is lousy". Also, there is often desire to NOT communicate bad news to everyone in the organisation. This can be quite a delicate operation.

Encouraging the team to reach a mitigated action plan - particularly where there is more than one commercial group impacted can also take time. In addition, they don't always reach an accomodation that I am happy with (and in this situation, the best that can be hoped for is an accomodation, there is rarely a solution). When this happens, I find it difficult to refrain from arguing - but my role is one of facilitator, not dths.ecision maker.

Finally, the process of course checking and correcting requires a very systematic approach. This is not playing to my strenghs. I have learned over the years that this part of the process is better managed by somebody other than me! So my final act in this type of situation is to hand over the reins to somebody else.